Review Blog

Sep 25 2015

Sweet boy, dear wife by Heather Rossiter

cover image

Wakefield Press, 2015. ISBN 9781743053782. (Age: 16+) Non-fiction.
What an amazing woman! Jane Dieulafoy cut her hair short and dressed as a man, and set off with her husband Marcel to explore the mysterious lands of Persia, riding a horse and carrying a shotgun for protection against bandits and other dangers, including lions! She learnt and spoke Farsi fluently, outwitted canniving despots, suffered numerous attacks of malaria and fever, endured thirst, hunger, fleas and headlice, and survived to explore the ruins of ancient times, uncovering beautiful artefacts beneath rubble and dirt. Archaeology and photography were among her many talents, as well as wits and determination, for there were times when Marcel, seriously ill, had to depend on her to protect and guide them to safe refuge.
Could such a woman have really existed in the late 1880s? Unbelievable as it might seem, this is not fiction. Author Heather Rossiter draws on meticulous research to piece together the story of their adventures, drawing on Jane's own diaries and the writings of others from the period. The result is a thorough documentation of Jane's life culminating with the award of Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur by the President of the French Republic. The Lion and Archer friezes retrieved from Persia and displayed in the Louvre Museum are the treasures that she brought back.
Rossiter includes many of Jane's black and white photographs of men and women she encountered, from palaces, from harems and lowly villages. These are supplemented by the author's own colour photographs of the temples and ruins the couple explored. The story of Jane and Marcel is supplemented by rich historical detail of the times of Darius, Alexander the Great, Xerxes and other rulers in Ancient Persia, and creators of the marvels that Jane and Marcel documented for their audience at home in France.
The book is an interesting combination of biography, history, and travel. So much so, I've now added Iran to my travel wish list.
Helen Eddy

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